After a year lost to COVID, summer camps will reopen
SALISBURY — The familiar sounds of laughing, shouting, splashing and playing — both the youthful abandon and instrumental varieties — will once again tickle the ears of those living near Lake Dunmore this summer.
That’s because three popular camps — Keewaydin, Songadeewin and Point CounterPoint — will reopen to children this summer after a one-year hiatus forced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Demand has been high and is coming steadily at this point,” said Camp Songadeewin Director Ellen Flight, who reported the first month at both Songadeewin and Keewaydin is already booked solid, with waiting lists.
“I think there’s such a pent-up need for kids,” she added. “The mental and emotional health of our kids has taken such a hit that they need camp now more than ever.”
Local camp leaders have spent months consulting state and federal guidelines to develop protocols that will protect children from the coronavirus while offering them the summer experiences they’ve come to expect. Flight said it’s all about “non-pharmaceutical interventions”: mask-wearing, staying outside, distancing, frequent handwashing, and good ventilation. And kids shouldn’t spend more than 15 minutes close to someone else.
At Keewaydin (for boys) and Songadeewin (for girls), the pandemic protocols began with the hiring of a pediatric public health epidemiologist, Dr. Laura Blaisdell, who helped draft health/safety protocols for reopening camp. Here are some of the highlights of those protocols:
• Keewaydin and Songadeewin, which typically serve 340 and 190 campers, respectively, per summer, will operate at 80% of capacity this year. Staffing will be at about 90%, and plans call for having three nurses at camp at all times, instead of the usual two.
Camp drop-off will be like at school; no lingering to minimize chances of spreading the virus. There will be no midseason parents’ weekend. Eight-week campers will be allowed a midseason Zoom meeting with parents.
• Campers and staff will practice “low-risk” behavior for 10-14 days prior to arriving at camp. Then they’ll all be asked to take COVID tests (nose swabs) around three days before their arrival.
The state currently requires 14-day quarantine before travel and seven-day quarantine upon arrival, but Flight is “very hopeful” the Keewaydin/Songadeewin health protocols will pass muster with the Vermont Department of Health.
“Right now, it behooves us to be patient with the rollout of the vaccine, and hopefully getting the numbers in the state down enough so (Gov. Phil Scott) can feel confident our plan is one that can be safe,” Flight said. “We know it can be safe. We just need to get government approval.”
• Upon arrival, staff and campers will be administered a rapid antigen test to rule out COVID before they move into their quarters.
• Campers will be organized into cohorts, or smaller groups of around 20, and they’ll stick with those same companions during their camp stays. This means that if one camper were to test positive, his/her cohort mates would be subject to quarantine, as opposed to the entire camp.
Cohort members will be able to bunk, dine and play together without wearing a face covering. Families are being asked to send their camper with a dozen double-layered masks.
“Once we get to day 5 or 6 with that second (nose swab) test, we can probably start mixing cohorts for some activities — but they’ll need to think about distancing and masks,” Flight said.
“You won’t have to be masked all the time; you just have to be (vigilant) about who you’re coming into close contact with for any extended period,” she added.
• Anyone who tests positive will be placed in isolation, and cohort members will be quarantined on camp grounds pending another round of testing.
“In camp you can’t create a total ‘bubble,’ but you have a much better chance,” Flight said. “The kids move in for a month or eight weeks, and they’re not out in public doing other stuff. You can set up safety guidelines.”
• Kitchen staff, who won’t live on premises, will wear masks at all times and social distance. Keewaydin/Songadeewin last year hired a specialist to inspect camp buildings and recommend ventilation and other adjustments. For example, the cabins are now equipped with fans that will suck air out. Overhead stove hoods and open windows will increase safety in the dining halls. And plans call for dining facilities to be kept at half capacity; the other 50% of campers will eat in tents.
Maintenance crews have installed outdoor handwashing stations and hand sanitizing posts. A fourth row of benches has been added to the outdoor circle at Songadeewin to ensure better spacing of campers.
More tents will allow campers to stay outdoors even when it’s raining. And, fortunately, many camping activities can be done with decent spacing — hiking, swimming, archery and boating.
“There’s a lot you can do,” Flight said.
But some camp activities will be harder to pull off during the COVID era, including contact sports such as wrestling and basketball scrimmages.
Keewaydin and Songadeewin staff will arrive for training on June 9 and 17, according to Flight. The first installment of campers will arrive June 27.
Since the vast majority of campers will be between the ages 8-16, they won’t have access to COVID vaccinations. But Flight believes most, perhaps even all, of the 70 camp staff will have been immunized prior to arrival.
Keewaydin Executive Director Peter Hare grew up at the camp, which his father, “Waboos,” owned from 1949 until 1982 and directed until 2000. Peter is greatly anticipating the resumption of what has been a 111-year tradition on Dunmore.
“We know there will be challenges, but we believe we have a very strong plan to run camp safely and responsibly,” Hare said. “There will be a lot of mask- wearing and testing, but camp with a mask is a lot better than no camp!”
AT THE MUSIC CAMP
Meanwhile, Point CounterPoint Executive Director Jenny Beck is getting ready for the first of five camp sessions serving children whose summer will include a unique chamber music experience. Aspiring musicians are given expert training in their preferred instrument, from violin to piano.
Founded in 1963, Point CounterPoint was uncharacteristically silent last summer due to the pandemic. Camp instructors provided musical tutelage online, “but it wasn’t the same,” Beck said.
She spent last summer tending to maintenance on the Leicester campgrounds.
“For me, a summer is usually filled with music,” Beck said. “Personally, (last summer) was incredibly sad and quiet.”
But she’s getting ready to strike up the band again in June with the first 45 campers due to arrive for a two-week session that is now sold out. Four additional sessions for children will take the camp through August, then there will be two workshops for adults this fall.
Attendees will conform to COVID protocols much like those at Keewaydin-Songadeewin: campers organized into pods, testing, masks when necessary, proper indoor ventilation and being outside as much as possible, physically distancing and rigorous personal hygiene.
Each pod of 16-20 campers will live, eat, rehearse their chamber pieces and initially do their activities together, physically distanced from the other pods. While campers are operating just within their pod, they won’t have to wear masks. But there will be situations where the intermingling of pods will require mask-wearing and physical distancing.
Area residents have historically enjoyed student performances during the summer. Point CounterPoint leaders are planning some outdoor concerts this year.
Beck has one more important detail to sort out.
“I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to be able to hug them,” she said of her campers.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.